Kindness and neglect can be surprisingly close companions. In a recent post we saw that this is true of how we treat humans. It’s also true of animals.
In late 2015 a resident of Canberra, Australia, found a stray dog entangled in his hedge. It was eventually found to be terminally sick, afflicted with lymphoma, underweight and flyblown . He brought the dog into his secure back yard but (as he later told the court) lacked sufficient funds to take it to a vet for care. In November 2015 a member of the public reported the dog’s predicament to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ACT) (RSPCA).
The RSPCA seized the dog and ultimately put it down (the Society’s press release is unsparing about how badly degraded was the dog’s condition). The man was charged with failing to seek veterinary treatment*. The Australian Capital Territory’s Animal Welfare Act 1992 (ACT) §6B relevantly provides that
(1) A person in charge of an animal has a duty to care for the animal.
(2) A person in charge of an animal commits an offence if the person—
(a) fails to take reasonable steps to provide the animal with
(iv) treatment for illness, disease, and injury; …
Maximum penalty: 100 penalty units, imprisonment for 1 year or
(3) In this section:
appropriate means suitable for the needs of the animal having
regard to the species, environment and circumstances of the animal.
reasonable steps means the steps a reasonable person would be
expected to take having regard to all the circumstances.
treatment includes veterinary treatment if a reasonable person
would expect veterinary treatment to be sought in the circumstances.
The defendant was dealt with in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates’ Court. He pleaded guilty to the charge but said that he had not been able to afford to get the dog treatment on a veteran’s pension.
Theakston M noted that by keeping the dog in his back yard, the defendant had prevented other people from helping it**. The offender “did the right thing, but in doing so failed to meet additional obligations” connected with taking charge of a dog.
His Honour imposed a 12 month good behaviour order. He did not order the defendant to cover the costs of caring for the dog, destroying it and holding a post-mortem, noting that the organisation would probably have incurred these costs regardless.
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v Van Duren (2016) Canberra Times, 5 December 2016.
* A charge of failing to provide shelter was withdrawn.
** cf Zelenko v Gimbel Bros Inc, 158 Misc. 904; 287 NYS 134. One might wonder who His Honour thought was likely to help the dog.